For as long as I’ve known Kyle I’ve pestered him to let me train him. Never having had the chance to train a competitive bodybuilder, the idea of getting my hands on a testosterone-supplementing training victim, erm, client has long appealed to me. Beginners to weight training tend to make rapid gains in the first 6-12 months. I was curious to see what would happen with an FTM who was taking testosterone. Would he respond like an average man with normal endogeneous test levels, or would he respond like a man who had additional supplementation?
Eventually Kyle reached a point where he felt comfortable beginning this type of fitness program. However, he presented me with a few conditions.
- He preferred to work out at home. A gym environment was out for him, partially because of locker room issues, but more importantly because it was not a friendly, safe environment for a non-athletic trans person who was still negotiating his comfort with his own body.
- He didn’t have a lot of money, nor did he have a lot of space in his one-bedroom apartment, so a big complicated setup was out for him. This didn’t faze me in the least because I believe that low-tech is the best training protocol for most folks.
- As previously mentioned, he was a non-athlete and longtime sedentary person. While he did a fair amount of walking to perform daily activities, athletic activity in general had negative associations for him. I understood this completely, since memories of elementary school gym class humiliation were still circulating in my psyche.
- As a trans person he was still in an ongoing process of struggling with his own physical body and body image. For example, he sometimes felt that he did not have permission to get fit. This is an emotion which is also commonly felt by people who have spent a good portion of their lives being overweight. The challenge of getting fit involves psychological obstacles which may seem contradictory or nonsensical to people who have never experienced it. However, readers who have themselves experienced these feelings will no doubt agree that the body is intrinsically tied to the spirit and psyche, with complex threads of anxiety, doubt, worry, shame, fear, and that mean thing about our appearance that Steven Reinhardt said to us in seventh grade (oops, that last part was me). So, the process of getting in shape would involve much more than a treatment of the physical body.
Kyle also had a few goals. Above all he wanted to feel more comfortable in his body. He wanted to lose some bodyfat, and he wanted to gain some muscle. He wanted to present a recognizably masculine physique. He also wanted to build up his chest to replace the mass lost after chest surgery.
Given these conditions, here was what I came up with.
First, we assembled the following equipment from what Kyle already owned and a trip to the fitness store:
- one standard barbell (standard barbells have a 1″ diameter at the ends, while Olympic barbells have a 2″ diameter at the ends)
- two standard collars (the little thingies that hold the weights on the bars)
- four 2.5 lb. plates, four 5 lb. plates, four 10 lb. plates
- two dumbbell handles
Kyle now had a complete beginner home gym. To add to it, he could purchase additional plates, plus space-saving things like a jump rope, pullup bar, weighted knapsack if desired. There was not enough room for a bench, nor was there a handy coffee table which could be substituted. Kyle could add a Swiss ball which can be used as a bench, or we could substitute other exercises, which we did. The dumbbell handles and plates were stacked in a corner and the barbell was rolled under the couch when not in use.
Second, I developed a routine for Kyle which accommodated his above concerns as well as his beginner status. Kyle had a busy job and would only be able to commit to working out 2 days per week (3 at the most). Before I started Kyle on the weights, I had him take a week or so to learn the basic movement which was the foundation of many lifts: the squat. I had him practice this with no weight, hands held out in front, aiming to develop the balance, stability, and coordination necessary to descend to full depth with good form. Beginning with no weight at all for this and other movements was an important part of skill development and building confidence.
Then I gave Kyle the beginner routine listed below.
- Warm up by walking up and down apartment building hallway, approx. 3-5 minutes of walking
- Squat 3 sets x 10 reps (1 warmup set, 2 working sets)
- Standing one-arm shoulder press, 2 x 10
- One-arm dumbbell rows, 2 x 10 (Kyle used his couch for a bench)
- Pushups, 2 x as many as he could do
- Weighted ab crunches, 2 x 12-15
This was all performed in a space about 4′ x 7′.
In the next issue of Trans-Health I will provide updates on Kyle’s progress and the second stage of the workout.
Kyle’s beginner stats, as of October 2001
Starting weight: 175 lbs.
Upper arm (unflexed): 12.5″ (flexed): 13.5″